leveling up while geeking out on the set of the big bang theory

Living out here in Pasadena means I have limited options for getting into Burbank and points North and West. Typically, I head up to the 134 and hope I get to approach 4th gear for at least a few minutes before the whole freeway turns into a parking lot.

This morning, the first morning in months that I had to be somewhere at a specific time and really couldn't be late, the 134 was a parking lot starting East of the Rose Bowl and going all the way through Eagle Rock and into Glendale. Luckily for me, I found this out while I was eating breakfast, and I was able to leave 30 minutes early to loop up the 210 through La Canada and down the 2, adding about 15 miles but only 5 minutes (net) to the drive out to Burbank. Which I guess I should point out isn't even 10 miles, but took almost an hour.

Through some miracle, great luck, a warping of the spacetime continuum, (or, more likely, a combination of them all) I arrived at Warner Brothers and pulled into my guest actor parking spot in front of Stage 25 only ten minutes later than I wanted to arrive, which put me in the stage ten minutes before the read through was set to begin. I'm not going to lie to you, Marge, getting to park in a spot that said "Reserved for The Big Bang Theory" that was right in front of the stage was awesome.

The stage was filled with actors, writers, and crew. There was an excited buzz in the room as they all talked about how great their season premiere ratings were, and how happy and grateful they all were. I was introduced to the cast, tried and mostly succeeded to keep my geeksquee under control enjoyed the read through. The script, which already sounded funny in my head, was absolutely hilarious coming out of the actors who play these characters, and it was really cool to sit around the table with them, as a peer. 

When the read through was finished, I talked with Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady for a minute, then grabbed breakfast while we all got ready to run through the script on the sets with the director. Johnny Galecki was getting food at the same time, and while we filled our bowls with oatmeal (breakfast of champions, kids) he told me how excited they were to have me on the show, and thanked me for being there.

"I think I should just out myself now and get it over with," I said. "I'm a huge fan of your show, and I can't even believe that I get to be part of it this week."

He laughed and said, "Well, it's a great group, and you're going to have a great time."

"I don't doubt it," I said. Then I got out of there before I could say something stupid and embarrassing about how much I loved that one thing they did in season two, or how funny it was that one time when they made that one joke. Yeah, I didn't say anything stupid or embarrassing or fanboy at all, and as far as anyone knows, that's exactly how it happened.

I finished my breakfast, wandered through the comic shop set (which is put together with such incredible attention to detail, I almost went looking for the latest issue of IRREDEEMABLE) and tried to stay out of the way while the actors and director got ready to run through the script on the stage.

It was neat, how quickly the room and the mood changed once the read through was done: everyone but the actors and a few crew left, and the stage became very quiet and intimate for the rest of the day while we walked through the first broad strokes of the episode. (You could think of today's run through like an image that hasn't been completely rendered, yet. As the week goes on, we'll apply colors, textures, anti-aliasing, lighting, and all the other things that take us from a wireframe to a realistic-looking tea pot that throws a lens flare and a nifty shadow.)

Once they started running through the script, I pretty much parked myself in a chair near the director, and just watched. As a fan of the show, it was awesome to see the actors (who I don't know very well) bring their characters (who I know extremely well) to life. As an actor, it was tremendously informative and inspiring to see how the actors and the director worked together to bring the script to life. I saw things I used to take for granted, that happened automatically, when I was working as an actor every day, and remembered the importance of finding the truth of the scene, hearing the music of the scene, and knowing how a character would organically exist in the scene. Working as a writer, I create those beats and use the same fundamental skills, but in a very different way, and if I try to do that as an actor, it doesn't work (I recently tanked an audition because I couldn't get access to The Actor in my head, approached the thing like The Writer, and left the room in a stinking cloud of Epic Fail.)

I remember being in drama school in my early twenties, and having at least a decade more experience than everyone else in the room except our teacher. I remember paying close attention all the time, even when I wasn't working on a scene in front of the class, or getting notes directly from her. I remember her telling the other kids in the school, many of whom were convinced that they were going to be The Next Big Thing (all of them except Salma Hyek were wrong) that they didn't learn anything about performing while they were actually doing it. They learned while watching other actors perform, and understanding why their choices worked or didn't work. 

I haven't done a show like this in years, and I want to make sure that I am completely back in shape, I guess you could say, by the time we perform the episode next week. To make sure I get there, I spent the entire day, even when I wasn't in the scene, watching and listening, and remembering skills that I once used every day, but haven't even thought about in a very long time. By the time we got to my last scene of the day (God, I wish I could describe it, because it's hilarious) I felt confident, I felt funny, and I felt weird but also good.

Wait. Not the last part. I'm saving that for the weekend, when I finally get to celebrate being on The Big Bang Theory.

When I wasn't watching them rehearse, I spent the rest of the day talking with one of the other actors (I'm not saying who, so don't ask) who is as big a gamer as I am, totally geeking out about Space Hulk, Dominion, and how much we love Eurogames.

My favorite non-rehearsal moment went like this:

Me: Do you play any cooperative games?

Him: They're not my favorite, but yeah.

[Pause]

Both, in unison: Have you played Pandemic?

Both, in unison: Yes! 

[Laugh.]

[Pause.]

Him: I guess it's appropriate that we're playing geeks.

Me: It certainly is.

Now I'm home, where I get to learn lines and hope that the bulldozer next door doesn't wake me up from this wonderful dream where I get to work on my favorite show.

6:26pm: I've just remembered something that isn't enough for its own post, but certainly warrants an update to this one.

This morning, after the table read, one of the other actors (I'm not saying who, so don't ask) said to me, "You are a very funny man, mister Wil Wheaton." I thanked this other actor, but pointed out, "I just did my best not to mess up the funny that was already in the script." The other actor nodded and said, "Me too. Me too."

This other actor is a tremendous comedic talent, and I can't see anyone else in the world playing the role this actor plays, because he/she/it brings a great deal of personality and acting talent to the role, and it wouldn't be the same if another actor played it. But I think it's awesome that this other actor feels, like I do, that everything we do starts with the words the writers give us, and sometimes the hardest (and most important) thing we can do is not screw them up.

75 thoughts on “leveling up while geeking out on the set of the big bang theory”

  1. Really looking forward to seeing this– it’s great that you’re having such a good time. And congrats on meeting your charitable donation goal!

  2. You are so lucky that you get to dress up in costumes and play make-believe and get paid to do it!
    I really need to get my ass back on stage sooner rather than later.

  3. BBT is one of my favorite shows. I am so stoked you get to play with the cool kids :) Looking forward to your ‘production diary’, if you choose to do one on this experience. (Pleasepleaseplease?)

  4. When can we expect the episode to air? I can’t believe I never watched this show. I thought it made fun of geeks when it was initially debuted, and by the time I realized it was FOR geeks I felt so behind. This will be a good reason to get into it and try and watch some back episodes.

  5. (You could think of today’s run through like an image that hasn’t been completely rendered, yet. As the week goes on, we’ll apply colors, textures, anti-aliasing, lighting, and all the other things that take us from a wireframe to a realistic-looking tea pot that throws a lens flare and a nifty shadow.)
    Wil….I love that example. That’s a really good description for me (non-actor) to think about the rehearsal process. And that fact that you put it in those terms is…interesting. It’s sometimes easy to forget that you’re a geek in the true sense (pay D&D, had SW figures, etc).
    We appreciate you writing for us. It makes us feel very welcome.
    Good luck this week! Have fun! Can’t wait to see the ep!

  6. So now you have the oportunity to tell us how’s to play with peeps you admire. You’re in our shoes now.
    Thanks for sharing your experience. I like TBBT very much.

  7. I think it’s the 6th episode of the season, so in about 6 weeks, if they don’t take any breaks or reorder anything before it.

  8. *SQUEEEE* Dominion is a favorite in our house, along with Dominion: Intrigue. I’m looking forward to the next expansion. A friend is a play tester for it and …well… sometimes I wish I didn’t know spoilers. It’s going to be AWESOME.

  9. It has got to be odd to see that transition into the characters you know… but it will be lovely to see you BBT Street Cred Badge sewn onto your Wil Scout uniform.

  10. I am so stoked that you are going to be on Big Bang Theory. My Sweet Hubby and I LOVE that show (but, then, Sweet Hubby is a Geek. And I love geeks in general)Looking forward to seeing the episode!
    Take care Wil.

  11. just wanted to say… great to see you back on the TV/acting radar. btw, I always liked Wesley. ’cause I’d have given my left nut to BE Wesley – even if he was a bit dorky at times. He was smart and he got to fly a spaceship!

  12. I just wanted to let you know that not only is this the niftiest thing ever, but I even kept my cable for an extra two months just to make sure I get to see this. I’m so excited, and everyone I know has had to hear about it while I geek out.

  13. Bill Prady? That explains a lot. He co-founded a company called The Small Computer Company (best known for Tandy’s Profile database & filePro). His co-founder was HOWIE WOLOWITZ, who was also the president of the company! I used to work for them & Howie was quite a character. He smoked dope almost continuously & managed to sneak some jokes into our source code, like naming certain features for his parents.

  14. Holy cow, what aren’t you going to be on this year? Criminal minds, Leverage, TBBT, PAX… I’m sure I’m missing at least one or two more in there. Before I know it you’ll be on Sons of Anarchy and CSPAN!

  15. Well, at least I know how long I have to get my fanfic done. :) Can’t have people saying I stole it from TV… uh, though the odds of it having anything remotely similar are… really, really small.
    Yay for you. I’d be jealous, but why?

  16. That was a wonderful and touching post, my friend. Still I wish you had posted it LAST week. For six years I have been wanting to do the WB studios Deluxe tour. (Five hours long, $200) Last Friday I did. I took the train to Burbank, went to the Studio and had a blast. (Including the set of BBT. BTW TVTICKETS.COm for tickets to tapings of sitcom, but BBT is out of ticket for the foreseeable future.) Now the rest of the plan was my sweetie-wife would drive up from San Diego meet me t the WB studios and we would then drive down to Medieval Times for that show and then home to sleep.(I’m a D&D since 1979 and have never been to medieval Crimes, shame on me) My wife calls me at 3:30 she locked in traffic miles and miles and miles from the studio. She rolled a twenty on her save though and still got us there in time. Had we known about the Burbank black hole of traffic we could had planned, but we are strangers in a strange land in LA.

  17. My wife and I finally did the Medieval Times show in LA a few years ago and I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was an entertaining event. The people in line in front of us were a younger crowd, and their conversation was rather funny. Though I can’t recall exactly what it was (old age getting to me maybe?)

  18. First…@(blank), you can get the tickets through a website called http://www.audiencesunlimited.com/. They “sell” out really quick for BBT (and 2.5 Men), but if you’re lucky you’ll get some tix, which are free of course. I went to the taping of episode 3 at the end of August and it was as AWESOME as you know it would be!
    Second…@ Wil, BBT recently bought 5 of our shirts to (hopefully) use on the show, including the one I gave you at Comic-Con. Wouldn’t it be funny if they had you wear it? Looking forward to seeing your episode! (and the rest of them, of course!)
    -Matt

  19. Wil, you really have a knack for making me watch shows that I would never otherwise watch in a million years. I had nightmares for a week after Criminal Minds… and while with a BNL-penned theme and the subject matter I wish I watched BBT, one of the actors on the show has bugged me for years and I think I only ever managed to sit through one full episode. Not that I’m really complaining, but can’t you just once be on How I Met Your Mother or some such? ;) :P

  20. knowing nothing about LA driving/traffic, I checked Google Maps, and pasadena to Burbank is about 13.5 miles (roughly).
    If driving in LA is that bad, which I appreciate it is. Wouldn’t it be more uber geek to cycle?
    Is it even possible to cycle around LA, let alone cycle from Pasadena to Burbank.
    But, think of uber cred it would be to turn up with a helmet on a bike? (apart from being all hot and sweaty and stuff) :P

  21. “But, think of uber cred it would be to turn up with a helmet on a bike? (apart from being all hot and sweaty and stuff) :P”
    Yeah, that’s the thing. My only contact with TV or film sets is via interviews with actors, but they always talk about “call time” as in when they’re supposed to show up to the makeup room/trailer to get made up for the day’s shooting. My extrapolation from doing theater is that you’re supposed to be relatively showered at that point.
    I presume, as a guest star, that Wil likely doesn’t have a place to shower when he gets there (or when done) and so is assumed to show up more or less ready to be made-up (non-sweaty).
    Although that begs an intresting question. For series and films that actors work on, people always talk about being in their “trailer” on set/studio. It’s never occurred to me to wonder before; do they have running water? I presume they have electricity for lights/computer/stereo, but what else? Wil? Someone else? What are the standard amenities for a trailer on a TV or film set? Presumably it varies with the film and the level of actor within the production, but what’s the baseline of, say, someone who’s in every episode of a TV show?

  22. Hey Wil!! Congratulations on Big Bang, can’t wait to see it! QUESTION: I’ve gotta know, the stair case set, do they have 3 different sets for each floor? Or do they change a few things on one set?

  23. Bummer. When I lived in Seattle it was one of the best in the country.
    Got me from a suburb of SeaTac into downtown every morning in less than an hour, anyway.

  24. Congrats Wil! Really looking forward to seeing you on BBT, my husband and I are big fans of the show and just re-watched the season premiere last night.

  25. Hey, Wil-
    While you’re kicking around there, any chance you can lobby for them to lose that godawful laugh track? Or if it’s not a laugh track, pull the cords from the mikes on the audience?
    That is literally the single thing keeping me from watching the show. I couldn’t make it through one episode because of it.

  26. This is a four-camera sit-com, and the other shows are all single-camera dramas (except The Guild, which was a unique experience from everything else I’ve ever done.)

  27. I can’t wait to see you on Big Bang, which I love, unless for some reason I miss it and can’t catch up because it ISN’T on the INTERNET. Please please tell those guys that the geeks of the world want to watch the show online!
    PS, you are awesome. Keep kicking ass.
    PPS, If you could find your way on to How I Met Your Mother, it would be even more awesome.

  28. I wish you the best of luck. I don’t think your post could possibly express just how excited you must be. I really think you’ve hit your stride, timed with the whole geek is cool thing. The ratings of a show like this, shows that you better be ready for a lot more opportunities to come your way.
    As a long time gamer, some of the most bizarre, laugh your ass off, incredible funny things happen in the course of RP gaming. Things that only the combination of several creative, smart and funny people could invent while playing a game.
    -A

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